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Director: Pasquale Festa Campanile’s
Writer: Tullio Pinelli,
Cast: Rosanna Schiaffino, Haydée Politoff, and Romolo Valli
Length: 95 min
Label: Mondo Macabro
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.33:1
Audio: Italian: LPCM Mono
- Interview with critic Roberto Curti
- Justin Harries of Filmbar 70 featurette
- Interactive filmography
- Original Theatrical Trailers
As a lover of Euro-cult film, for me, the late sixties/early seventies are wildly exciting. This was a time of peak creativity in many areas of European film, and features were being delivered with a heavy dose of sexy style and panache; something that sadly seems all but lost in consequent years. When turning to Italian film in particular, the move away from the Neo-realism of the earlier decade, allowed for some fantastically innovative and inspired work to come out of the country. In amongst the easily definable flicks of the period, were many wild cards that seemed to escape genre limitations—due to their non-linear narratives, and slick retro chic rendering in their artistic vision. These were films that utilized basic genre tropes, such as erotic, thriller, or comedy and then propelled the subject matter into an artful sphere with their ground-breaking methods of delivery. Mondo Macabro’s first foray onto blu-ray is one such film–The Slave, aka Check to the Queen or its Italian title Scacco alla regina (1969). This is a film which has been crying out for a decent release and now, due to this gorgeous upgrade, the film will hopefully be able to take its place alongside other like-minded genre classics of the period.
It’s surprising that the large contribution director Pasquale Festa Campanile made to Italian cinema seems to have escaped all but hardcore cult fans of the period. A novelist, prolific screenwriter. and director, Campanile has amassed a respectable amount of credits to his name, yet very little of his directorial work seems to be available—even within its native country. An in-depth internet search reveals very little about the man; with much of his associated work even lacking a detailed report on sites like IMDb. Most fans, if they have heard of him, will likely know of the director from his gritty late seventies thriller, Hitchhike (1977), starring David Hess and Franco Nero; a film that appears to have had a widespread release due to the inclusion of two cult icons heading the cast. While fans of Italian erotic cinema will no doubt also have heard of him for either this picture or the Radley Metzeger distributed, The Libertine (1968), which starred Catherine Spaak and Jean–Louis Trintignant. Beyond this, even well-known cult archive sites have little more to offer, and while there are some examples of Campanile’s work to be found here and there, the rest remains pretty much a mystery. For a director who worked with many names in the genre, including the likes of Barbara Steele and Edwige Fenech, it remains criminal that more of his work is not widely available; and this demonstrates just why these restorations are so important. Battling obscurity and therefore—for many companies—lacking little in the way of market value, these films will disappear if action isn’t taken to save them. Therefore as fans we owe a great debt to labels like Mondo Macabro for keeping this work alive, and long may it continue.
The synopsis is a little misleading, presenting as a straight up Italian erotic number with a lesbian and S&M tone. There is the risk that some may come away from a viewing with a little disappointment on that score, especially if they don’t know what to expect. The story involves two women—both affluent—who come together in a strange relationship as master and slave, so it is easy to see where the confusion comes from. Silvia (Haydée Politoff), after being left behind by her husband—who has jetted off for a business trip to Tokyo—applies for work as a secretary with a glamorous film star and model Margaret (Rosanna Schiaffino). The job entails a lot more, however, as Margaret wants a personal assistant who will cater to her every whim. This is a challenge that appeals to Silvia; the bored housewife having a penchant for dreaming her time away with sadomasochistic fantasies as a submissive. So begins an elaborate game between the two women, each continuing to push the boundaries as their relationship develops. Silvia’s fantasies—which are presented as a grand psychedelic landscape in dreamlike sequences—slowly become more in tuned to her situation with Margaret. She finds herself pushed to the limit in a series of games that become increasingly more elaborate—such as being dressed up like a fashion mannequin; having to strip naked and act like a statute to amuse party guests; or the various punishments she is subjected to for non-compliance, like having her hair cut off. The lesbian angle is never explored, with Margaret putting the kibosh on any sexual relationship developing between the two, apart from some flirtatious scenes that appear in Silvia’s fantasy moments. However, what becomes spellbinding is the dynamic between the two leads as you get pulled into their serpentine web of strange behavior and start to wonder where everything is heading.As an erotic film, The Slave moves more along the lines of titillation than in an overt graphic sense. It also presents its subject matter in a fascinating off-beat style; looking like something that could have slid straight out of the pages of a 60’s Italian Vogue Magazine, with added elements of LSD weirdness for further texture. On this level the film will appeal to those who have enjoyed like-minded features that present erotica with an artsy edge, such as Femina ridens– aka The Frightened Woman (1969), or Radley Metzger’s Italian made Camille 2000 (1969). Other films that spring to mind, that aren’t as connected in subject matter, but share a similar strong visual style, are Death Laid an Egg (1968), Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), the pop-art inspired erotic horror Baba Yaga (1973), and also to some extent Tinto Brass’ Deadly Sweet (1967)—the list could go on. Although, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and Baba Yaga are far more lurid in their delivery—a sign of the times—all these features are great specimens of this experimental period for Italian film.
The Slave is a film that leads to a deeper meaning than the plot outline would initially suggest, an aspect common in Italian film of the time. There appears to be some satire at play—focusing on two points: sexual politics and affluent culture. These are two women who are no longer in need of men to fulfil their desires, suggesting a reflection of the changing gender roles of the period. Men are only seen in the film as lesser characters—they are toys or tools for the two leads to continue their games. The secondary layer focuses on the women and their financial abundance. Silvia doesn’t take the job because she needs money, this message is reiterated many times. Yet she wishes to become an object; so uninspired by her unchallenging life, that it would appear she wants to give up all free-thinking and the right to make her own decisions. Margaret on the other hand is someone who lives to indulge and bores easily; vain, promiscuous, and wanting to be in control of everything—flaunting her wealth to achieve this. Neither of the characters are particularly likeable on this level, and they play out their roles in splendid style. Within all this, there is some obvious picking at the upper classes and their decadent lifestyles, and this is presented in almost caricature style by the actors. Looking for a point of reference, I found some similarity—again in over-loaded style and like-minded context—in Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim (1965). Then there is also The Bloodstained Lawn (1973), another stylish poke at the upper classes having too much time and money on their hands. While The Slave lacks the element of violence from these other pictures, they all share the same sumptuous and decadent vision, retro glamour, and subtle politics.
Comparing the Mondo Macabro print to a previous DVD release from another label it instantly becomes apparent how much life has now been injected back into the film by giving it a much needed restoration. Most notably the colors, which are an important part of the tone and feel, are now beautifully vibrant—the director having produced the picture in bold Technicolor, which shines on this release. Presented in 1080p, The Slave looks positively alive on screen. Scratches and other debris have been cleaned away, leaving nothing but a strong, filmic texture, with natural-looking grain, and no noticeable damage.
As with the print, The Slave has been given a quality upgrade, crackles and pops have now been cleared away, allowing for a well-balanced and clear mono audio track. On the note of sound, prolific composer Piero Piccioni’s sexed-up score really adds to the flavor. Anyone familiar with Piccioni should know what to expect—the composer also worked on some of the other features I have mentioned like The Tenth Victim and Camille 2000, as well as working extensively in the Italian film industry and beyond in a lengthy career.
This release comes with the benefit of a 19-minute featurette conducted by Justin Harries of Filmbar 70 which explores the context of Italian film at the time The Slave was made, including some of the political and economic climate, making it a very worthy addition. There is also a 27-minute video interview with critic, Roberto Curti, who discusses the film and its director’s career, comparing the film with the book on which it was based. There are also some trailers, previews, and interactive filmographies included.
Although not as well-known as some of the more famous experimental features of the period, The Slave is a highly stylized and extremely absorbing example of Italian Euro-cult film that moves into the sphere of cinema as art. Part of its obscurity is due to the lesser-known status of the director, and with this newly upgraded release hopefully more will be inspired to check out his other available works, if they haven’t already. A first time blu-ray for label Mondo Macabro, this represents an exciting prospect, as the restoration is beautiful, and I for one hope they continue this trend in quality as the label develops. For existing fans this upgrade is well worth investing in, and is unlikely to disappoint.